Pages: 849 / Audio: 30 hrs 44 mins
Published November 8th 2011 by Scribner
Dallas, 11/22/63: Three shots ring out.
President John F. Kennedy is dead.
Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.
Novel Gobblers Perspective
Carol's Rating: ★★★★
I was completely engrossed in this story - I could not put it down! And that's saying a lot because it is a big book; 849 pages that flew by! If you're like me and have avoided Stephen King's books because they are typically full of horror, rest assured this is one is not typical. It is a fascinating story about an ordinary guy experiencing extraordinary events and trying to set things "right". It takes you along for his journeys from 2011 to the time of "ago", 1959-1963, and what happens when you try to change the "obdurate past". There were several times I thought I knew where the story would go and each time I was completely surprised by the unexpected twists. It is a fascinating, exciting, and often touching story that captivated my attention and left me completely satisfied. At the end, I especially enjoyed the author's personal notes to the reader, wherein he gives additional details of his research - which began in the 1970's!
About the Author
King Reveals 11/22/63
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome, now a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.
King was born in Portland, Maine in 1947 and grew up in Durham, Maine. He attended the University of Maine at Orono, where he wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper, The Maine Campus. He was also active in student politics, serving as a member of the Student Senate, and supporting the anti-war movement. King graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1970, with a B.A. in English. He married Tabitha Spruce in 1971. King sprang onto the literary scene with the publication of Carrie (Doubleday, 1974) which was later made into a movie. The success of Carrie allowed him to leave his high school teaching position and write full-time. Other bestselling novels followed including The Shining, The Stand and The Dead Zone. Stephen King is known as a prolific writer of horror, suspense, science fiction and fantasy. His books have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide and many of his literature has been adapted to the screen and television.
A Conversation with Stephen King
Where were you when JFK was assassinated?
When I got the news I was in a hearse. I was a tuition kid in a little town and there was no bus service to the high school where we went. So our parents clubbed together and paid a guy who had a converted hearse, which he turned into a kind of school bus, and we went back and forth in that.
We didn’t get the news that Kennedy had been assassinated in school. But when we got into the hearse to go home, the driver, Mike, had the radio on for the first time in living memory. We heard that Kennedy had been killed. Mike, who was kind of silent, spoke up. “They’ll catch the son of a bitch who did that and somebody will kill him.” And that’s exactly what happened.
When and why did you decide to write a novel about the Kennedy assassination?
I tried to write this novel in 1973 when I was teaching high school. At that time it was called Split Track and I wrote fourteen single-spaced pages. Then I stopped. The research was daunting for someone who was working full-time at another job. Also, I understood I wasn’t ready— the scope was too big for me at that time. I put the book aside and thought someday maybe I’d go back to it.
I’m glad that I didn’t go forward with it then. In 1973 the wound was still too fresh. Now it’s going on half a century since Kennedy was assassinated. I think that’s about long enough. I recently saw Robert Redford’s film The Conspirator about the Lincoln assassination. That was a hundred fifty years ago, but it’s still kind of a shock to see the president of the United States assassinated by a lone gunman.
How does having a modern character going back in time affect the way you depict the 1950s, as opposed to simply setting a novel then?
Jake Epping, my main character, makes several different trips into the past—every trip takes him back to two minutes before noon on September 19, 1958, and every trip is a complete reset. Little by little he gets used to it, but the contrast between his twenty-first-century sensibility and the world of that late fifties and early sixties is jarring in a way that Mad Men isn’t. And sometimes it’s pretty funny, as when Jake gets caught singing a risqué Rolling Stones tune and tries to convince his girlfriend that he heard a song containing the lyrics “she tried to take me upstairs for a ride” on the radio!
We’re pretty well anchored in the present, the world that we live in as it is now—a world where there’s four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline, where men and women have a certain equality, where there’s an African American president, where we have computers. When you first go back to 1958, the trip is jarring. Yet the longer Jake stays, the more he feels at home in that particular world. Eventually, he doesn’t want to leave it. He’s gotten fond of his life at a time when you didn’t have to take your shoes off at the airport.
The act of writing is almost an act of hypnosis. You can remember things that are not immediately accessible to the conscious mind. I felt extremely challenged as I began this book. Could I really capture the sense of what it was like to live between 1958 and 1963? But writing, like anything imaginative, is an act of faith. You have to believe that those details will be there when you need them.
The more I wrote about those years, the more I remembered. I used research when I fell short but it was amazing how much came back to me—the sound coins made when you dropped them into the machine when you got on the bus; the smell of movie theaters when everybody was smoking; the dances, the teenage slang, books that were current, and the importance of the library in research. There’s a funny sequence where Jake needs to find somebody and is very frustrated; if he had his computer he could simply run a search engine and get what he needed in two or three minutes. There weren’t Jetways then; you walked out of a terminal and mounted the steps to get on a TWA plane. Now, TWA doesn’t exist anymore, but that’s the airline carrier that brought Lee Harvey Oswald back to Texas
When researching the music of the day, do you listen to those songs as you write?
I’ve always been a pop music fan. I have a good grasp of music between 1955 and now—it’s just one of the places where my head feels at home. It’s also one of the indicators of how American life changes and what’s going on at any particular time.
One of the epigrams for 11/22/63 is “dancing is life,” and dancing is something that has always interested me. It’s symbolic in so many ways of the courting ritual. The changes in dancing mirror the changes in the way we court and love and live over the years. I went to YouTube to watch videos of dances from the fifties and the sixties and that was an interesting thing, to watch people do the Stroll and the Madison, the Lindy Hop, Hell’s a Poppin’—fantastic stuff. I’m crazy about music and I’m crazy about dancing and some of that’s in the book.
I listen to music all the time. Not when I’m composing fresh copy, but when I’m rewriting or editing, I’ve always got it on and it’s always turned up really loud. I also have certain touchstone songs that I go back to—they drive my wife, my kids, my grandchildren crazy. I’m the sort of guy who will play Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” twenty-five times until I discover the song was written by Dolly Parton and then I listen to the Dolly Parton version forty times.
The music that made the biggest impression on me was rock ’n’ roll from the early fifties. I tried to get into the book the excitement that the kids felt to hear someone like Jerry Louis, Chuck Berry, or Little Richard. The first time you heard Little Richard your life changed. The first time I heard Freddie Cannon do “Palisades Park” I thought to myself, “This makes me feel so happy to be alive.”
Majestic Theatre, Dallas, TX November 10, 2011
King talks about the book, Dallas, the 1960s, the Kennedy assassination, as well as his career and politics. This is a 7 minute clip or you can watch the full interview HERE - it's great! I had no idea King was so witty and funny!
11/22/63 - Now a Hulu Original Series
Watch the official trailer for the Hulu original series 11/22/63 (premiered February 15th, 2016).
Questions from 112263Book.com
1. Where were you when JFK was assassinated?
2. 11/22/63 is filled with historical research—it twins real events with events and characters from King’s imagination. Did you learn anything surprising about the actual events leading up to the Kennedy assassination while reading this novel?
3. Our hero Jake Epping goes on an epic journey to try to prevent Kennedy’s assassination. Why choose this watershed moment in American history rather than any other moment? Would you choose a different moment, and if so, when?
4. Many great books, TV shows and movies have investigated the idea of time travel. Do you have any particular favorite books or films that explore this?
5. When Jake lives in 1960s small town Texas, he meets some of the most important people in his life, including the lanky, lovely librarian Sadie. Why is Jake drawn to her? And why is she drawn to him? How does their relationship change over the course of the novel?
6. What is the role of romance in this book? Some reviewers of 11/22/63 cited King’s optimism about love—after reading 11/22/63, do you agree?
7. Jake (or rather George) has to spend a lot of time in Dallas, which he experiences as a malevolent place. Jodie, on the other hand, is everything idyllic small town America should be. Do you believe that certain places are evil at certain times?
8. 11/22/63 gives readers an opportunity to immerse themselves in the past, in all its casual cigarette smoking glory—the music, food, language, cars, and dancing. What are your favorite things about the 50s and 60s King creates in 11/22/63? And least favorite?
9. Do you believe in the butterfly effect/chaos theory?
10. If you could pick any other period in history that you could go back to, which would it be?
11. Conspiracy theories abound, and numerous books have been written on the subject of the Kennedy assassination. In his afterword, King concludes (as Jake does in the book) that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman, a disturbed and grandiose man who altered world history forever all on his own. Do you agree?
Questions from Litlovers.com
1. How would you describe Jake Epping—what kind of man is he? How does his ex-wife see him? How do others see him. How do you see him?
2. Why does Jake agree to go back in time—what are his reasons? At this stage in your own life, would you be willing to travel back to the past? What conditions would you require to do so?
2. Why does King inject the Derry, Maine, subplot into the main plot? Is the Dunning episode necessary to the story—or does it drag down the novel's pace?
3. Describe the world of 1958 in which 2011 Jake finds himself. What is appealing about the era...and what is unappealing?
4. Once in Texas, what does Jake, now George Amberson, come to learn about Lee Harvey Oswald? What kind of character is Oswald? When Oswald arrives on the scene, why doesn't Jake/George just take him out? Why does he delay?
5. Follow-up to Question 4: What makes Jake/George (and the author) conclude that Oswald acted alone? Do you think he did? Have you done any previous reading/research that suggests Oswald was not a lone gunman? (see LitLovers review of Conspiracy by Anthony Summers.)
6. Jake/George has come to believe that life is not random:
Coincidences happen, but I’ve come to believe they are actually quite rare. Something is at work, O.K.? Somewhere in the universe (or behind it), a great machine is ticking and turning its fabulous gears.
What does Jake/George mean? Do you believe in a "great machine," an over-arching fate, or God who oversees and intervenes in our lives. Do "things happen for a reason"? What are your thoughts?
7. What is the nature of time as presented in 11/22/63? Consider the following:
• Time doesn't want to be changed: time is "obdurate." Why?
• Harmonies crop up, similarities in names and events. Why?
• The butterfly effect—what is it?
• The Yellow Card Man—is he a sentinel?
• Time is like a string; changing events tangles the strings.
8. Follow-up to Question 7: What does the novel, ultimately, seem to suggest about the hiuman desire to alter the past?
9. Follow-up to Questions 7 & 8: How does the novel present the notion of history? Is history shaped by individuals whose actions, discoveries, and intentions alter the course of events? Or is history created by the interconnectedness of a multitude of events, generated by forces bigger than any single individual?
10. King has a talent for taking supernatural events and locating them in everyday, mundane settings. How does he do that in 11/22/63? Does he pull it off...or does he falter?
11. 14. Why does Sadie sense that there's something odd about Jake/George? What are some of the ways that George's knowledge of the future betray him? Why does he withhold the truth from Sadie for so long? How would you react if someone told you he/she came from the future?
12. How would you classify this book? Historical fiction? Science fiction? Alternate history? Romance? Thriller? Realism? Is it suspenseful—did you find yourself rushing to turn the page? Were you expecting George to succeed—or fail—in his mission?
13. SPOILER ALERT: Talk about Jake/George's decision to return to 2011. Why does he make the choice he does? Do you wish he had chosen differently?
14. SPOILER ALERT: Talk about the dystopian world Jake returns to in 2011. What were the series of events that led up to the conditions he finds?
15. If you've read other Stephen King books, or seen the movies, how does this book compare with his others? Has he jumped his usual genre...or expanded it? Does that fact that King's normal genre is fantasy-horror make him especially equipped as an author to write a book like 11/22/63?